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Harley-Davidson cannot even sell it’s motorcycles but now they go after Die-Hard fans with a lawsuit

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By Christopher Zara

At the tiny Miss Worcester Diner in central Massachusetts, the Harley-Davidson logo flies proudly over a wall of flames, part of a colorful mural on display above the entrance. It was painted by a local artist to show the diner’s appreciation for the famed motorcycle brand.

The artwork has been there for a few years, so Kim Kniskern, the diner’s owner, was surprised this week when she received a cease-and-desist letter from Harley-Davidson’s headquarters in Milwaukee asking that the mural be taken down. The letter, from the company’s brand protection division, accused the diner of using Harley-Davidson’s “famous Bar & Shield logo” without permission and said removing it from the diner’s exterior would help ensure a “positive resolution” to the matter.

“I was shocked,” Kniskern tells Fast Company. “We’re kind of a biker diner, and we’re fans. There are always bikes parked outside, and they’re 90% Harleys.”

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Miss Worcester Diner is well-known to locals for its eclectic atmosphere and embrace of local artists. In 2015, BuzzFeed named it No. 1 on its list of “American diners you should eat at before you die,” and the establishment is even listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Kniskern says the Harley artwork is only one of many murals on display, and she doesn’t see how it harms the powerful brand in any meaningful way.

But the $5 billion motorcycle giant doesn’t see it that way. “Given the popularity and strength of the Harley-Davidson brand, we often run into enthusiasts such as yourself who utilize our Marks in their commercial endeavors,” the letter says. “However, by using our trademark on the exterior, public facing portion of your business, you have created the impression that there is an affiliation or other relationship with Harley-Davidson when no such relationship exists.”

If the company was expecting the letter to bring about a quiet resolution, it may have to think again. Yesterday, the missive was posted on Facebook by Tony Freitas, the artist who painted the mural, and it immediately sparked a backlash from the diner’s supporters, who accuse the motorcycle company of punching below its weight class. The Worcester Heritage Society has since launched an online petition to save the mural, which received more than 1,000 supporters in just a few hours.

“Harley-Davidson, while highly respected, is being incredibly short sighted in this matter,” the petition reads.

Vandals destroyed two huts used by Kingdom Off Road Motorcycle Club, hampering its vital work with young people in the area.

Harley-Davidson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Brand protection tactics such as this one are not unusual, but companies sometimes risk doing more harm than good—at least from a public-relations standpoint—when they take on small businesses with loyal followings. This is especially true in the age of social media, when a small bit of saber-rattling is just a Facebook post away from ricocheting around the world. For Harley-Davidson, which has been struggling to win over millennial consumers and recently posted one of the worst quarters in its history, you’d think the last thing it wants is a legal fight with diehard fans.

Kniskern said she’s been overwhelmed and heartened by the flood of positive online support, but in the end, she just hopes she can continue displaying the artwork. “My goal is to be able to leave it up,” she says. “I don’t have the kind of money to fight Harley-Davidson.”

5 comments

  1. Fuck Harley Davidson!
    Maybe we should all file a class action lawsuit against this greed infested company for steeling the 1%er look to sell their bikes from the 90’s to now.
    I ride Harley’s but the company will never make a dime off me, used bikes from private sales and local independent shops.
    Harley flooded the market with their bullshit way of life ads, so much so, now millennials consider Harley a joke.

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  2. Why does this have to be continually reiterated to readers? Doesn’t everyone who reads articles on the site know by now that they have been reprinted as is from the media source that they came from?
    Will it become necessary to place a huge disclaimer regarding the fact of the matter that YOU DIDN’T WRITE THE FUCKING ARTICLE!
    Give James a break. He’s not responsible for what’s in the article or it’s grammar and syntax.

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